So your business is ready to hire a communications partner and you’re not sure what to look for. You have a handful of agencies who are competing for your business and they all have solid campaign ideas and strategies. Choosing a new agency is costly, time-consuming and can be overwhelming. How do you decide which partner is the right one for you?
As an agency owner, I’ve always believed great people, excellent work, industry specialization and rock-solid strategies are the keys to success. But not all agencies are created equal. Consider these five factors that may tip the scales and set a great, long-term client-agency relationship apart from a mediocre, or frustrating, experience.
- The ability to offer an integrated communications approach
Many companies work with multiple agencies that each specialize in different disciplines, such as PR, marketing, digital communications and social media, but this approach comes with its fair share of issues. These can include a lack of cross-communication between agencies, ineffective use of time spent repeating briefings and redundancy in work processes, among others. “Too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the broth,” as they say.
Search for an agency that provides a full range of integrated services designed to work together synergistically, maximizing your precious marketing dollars and your impact. This will cut down on the amount of time spent coordinating different entities and will ensure all communications utilize consistent messaging, themes and timing. This type of partner will prove most cost-effective, efficient and capable of achieving greater results for your organization.
- A team comprising subject-matter experts
Your communications team’s job is to tell your story, and in order to do it well, it must have a basal level of subject-matter expertise. Having a superior understanding of your sector is important for the team to stay on top of industry trends, conversations and opportunities to insert your company into the dialogue. Only a team fully immersed in your world can effectively generate compelling proactive ideas and reactive responses. Their industry insight affords them an advantage in telling a story that is able to transcend industry chatter and be heard over the noise.
Here’s a bonus: Since this team is already deeply embedded in your industry, it should have strong media and influencer contacts. This allows it to leverage these earned relationships, built on trust and credibility to your advantage.
- A history of long-standing relationships
Since we’re talking about relationships, it’s important to look at an agency’s track record and ability to keep clients. A satisfied client has no reason to search for a new agency, so when evaluating potential partners for your own company it’s always a good idea to find out how long current clients have been with them.
A long-standing client roster is a great indicator of an effective communications agency and it speaks to their ability to be a good partner in the long haul. Look for an agency that will listen to your needs and understand your company’s vision, strengths, audiences and goals. A good partner agency will also feel like an extension of your in-house team, aligning with your company’s culture and sharing your energy and enthusiasm.
- A billing system that’s easy to understand
Most agencies operate on a retainer basis, using a monthly lump sum to staff teams with a broad range of capability and skills and cover administrative costs. However, this model often causes client uncertainty, confusion, or at worst, resentment or mistrust if they are unsure of how the retainer is spent. Ask if the agency bills in 15 minute increments, if you’re charged for their travel time, or to prepare proposals and quotes. Some agencies even charge you to prepare their invoices!
If this concerns you, look for an agency that employs a flat-rate model instead. This approach guarantees that services rendered on activities and programs are budgeted ahead of time so you’ll know exactly what you’re paying for. Receive expert counsel and rest assured your communications team is executing on strategy and tactics without breaking the bank.
- A penchant for transparency
Not enough agencies provide consolidated budget statements and regular activity updates so clients know exactly how their budget is being spent. Agencies take pride in the services they offer, and yours shouldn’t be afraid to disclose how it’s leveraging your budget or planning your next event. Transparency builds trust and trust is the foundation for every relationship – business or personal.
Find a communications agency that believes in transparency with its clients and in building a partnership with you and your team. Learn what types of tools your agency team uses and how it approaches strategy, planning, and processes. Schedule regular calls and ask questions. You deserve answers.
What do you most value in a partner? Do you believe in building a partnership with your communications agency? Leave a comment below.
To see StrategicAmpersand’s client roster and examples of our work, visit our website.